I wrote my college senior thesis on portrayals of Near-Eastern and North-African women at the turn of the century by French and American painters. By way of oversimplified summary, I posited that French painters often used such depictions as propaganda tools in support of colonization and oppression, while American painters used their subjects to explore newly evolving ideas of the role of women, psychology, and a return to “Zion” in an effort to understand the New World. Nevertheless, artists from both cultures viewed the people of the East as an “other” – sometimes exotic, sometimes erotic, sometimes dangerous, and other times beautiful, but always “other,” a term carrying with it feelings of fear and judgement, curiosity and intrigue.
When S and I booked our tickets to Istanbul about a month ago, I have to admit that I harbored a feeling of “otherness” toward Istanbul. I didn’t really know what to expect, except that it would be a place and culture completely different to my every day. Trepidatious, curious, but mostly excited to experience something new, we set off to Istanbul to experience the “other.” In case we forgot where we were while roaming the streets of stylish locals, delicious food, and vibrantly colored pottery, kilims, and art shops, the blaring and somewhat eerie call to prayer reminded us five times each day. Half in Europe, half in Asia, with a secular society embracing Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others, Istanbul is truly a place like no other.
Despite entering as outsiders, S and I felt warmly welcomed in Istanbul throughout our trip. The people of Istanbul are some of the kindest, most hospitable people I have ever met…second only perhaps to the “hons” of Baltimore. I love you, Baltimore. Every restaurant we entered we were greeted as “my friend.” Every merchant we interacted with offered tea and conversation. One restaurant owner even jokingly offered to give us our lunch for free if we left our friend Mike behind to watch the dishes. We were tempted, but Mike convinced us to keep him.
Even though Istanbul is no longer the “exotic other” for me, but an old friend, I can’t wait to go back and I know that I’ll still feel butterflies of excitement when I book my next ticket. Thank you to the people of Istanbul for your warm embrace.